A court in Istanbul on Friday ordered to send 17 people to prison out of the 51 who were taken into custody immediately after Sunday’s deadly blast on the city’s busiest avenue.
Two people were released from police custody ahead of the court procedures, and one suspect remains in custody for further questioning. A total of 49 people were referred to court, which ruled to deport 29 of them, Mezopotamya Agency reported.
In her court testimony, primary suspect Ahlam Albashir said she thought she was carrying drugs in the bag, and was not aware of the bomb. She rejected accusations by Turkish authorities, including by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, that she was an intelligence officer trained by the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The bomb in the bag Albashir had carried and left at a bench near the Istiklal Avenue killed six people and injured dozens immediately after she left the area. She was arrested from the apartment she was staying in a few hours after the blast.
Albashir was waiting for a pick up when she received a phone call instructing her to leave the bag and leave the premises. “I touched it, it was soft, there were chips or something on top. Underneath there was something soft,” she said in court. “I took a taxi, and understood what had happened when the driver showed me on his phone.”
The woman also said her family members had been threatened to make her take the bag to the location.
While authorities said Albashir had crossed into Turkey from YPG-controlled areas, she told the court she had come from Jarabulus, which has never been held by the Kurdish group. The town was occupied by the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2013, and the Turkish military took control and handed the town over to Syrian militias it controlled in 2016. The situation remains the same to date.
Turkey maintains that the attack was organised from Kobane in Syria, but Kurdish forces in the town reject all involvement. The Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) pointed to “dark plans” by the Turkish government, while Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Commander Mazlum Abdi said Albashir had connections to the Syrian National Army (SNA), a group backed by Turkey itself.
However, Minister Soylu changed his accusation on Friday, switching to Manbij as the source of the planning for the attack. During 2023 budget hearings in parliament, Soylu targeted Kurdish MPs from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and said the attack “came from Manbij, where your overlords are”.
Soylu was in Syria at the time of the attack, at a ceremony in Idlib where Turkey’s conservative and pro-government business association MÜSİAD was inaugurating a housing project. The minister blamed Washington in his original statements as well, while US President Joe Biden spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the G20 summit on Tuesday.
“It is that simple, your overlords are there. The United States, the Democratic Unity Party (PYD), and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is there,” Soylu said, citing respectively the Syrian Kurdish party that controls part of Kurdish-majority areas in northern Syria, and the organisation Turkey designates terrorist and accuses other Kurdish groups of terrorism by association over.
Biden “expressed his deep condolences to President Erdoğan and the people of Türkiye on the acts of violence in Istanbul”, according to a White House readout, while Erdoğan’s office announced the talk as Biden “offering condolences for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attack in Istanbul”, in wording that Biden had refrained from using. Erdoğan’s office also said Biden had promised continued support to Turkey in the country’s efforts to procure next-generation F-16s, while the White House readout made no mention of the fighter jets.
Meanwhile, Syrian national Ammar Jarkas was determined to be one of several people acting as Albashir’s handlers, and had arranged falsified papers for Albashir to make her look like she was working in a textile workshop he owned. Jarkas also attempted to help the bomber leave Turkey after the attack. The Aleppo-born businessman has been attending MÜSİAD meetings in Istanbul since at least 2020, as seen in photos he posted on social media.
Another accomplice, Hüsam A., was arrested in Azaz, Syria, controlled by Turkey-backed Syrian groups.
The investigation revealed a mobile phone number that was used to contact Albashir, which belonged to a local administrator at the Şırnak (Şirnêx) branch of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the far-right smaller partner in Turkey’s ruling coalition. MHP Güçlükonak chairman Mehmet Emin İlhan told police units that the line had been registered by an unknown person using a copy of his identity card, and that he had nothing to do with organising the attack.
Another nationalist politician, Adem Taşkaya from the far-right anti-refugee Victory Party (ZP) admitted to subscribing to a Telegram group used by police officers. Taşkaya had targeted Kurdish human rights lawyer Jiyan Tosun immediately after the blast, accusing her of being the bomber. The ZP vice chairman said he received the tip that Tosun was responsible for the attack in said Telegram group. The information leaked to social media included private information on Tosun’s teenaged nephew and other family members, and her home address.